Goodbye, Cursive Writing?

Kansas is the latest state to ponder the future of this dying artform.

Cursive writing may soon become a thing of the past. (Photo: PhotoAlto/Jerome Gorin)
Suzi Parker is a journalist whose work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

The rise of technology could mean the downfall of cursive writing in schools.

On Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education will ponder the future of cursive writing and its possible elimination from the curriculum. In its place, school districts could place more emphasis on typing.

All across the country, the elaborate curls on the letter “Q” and the elegance of a scripted “Z” are vanishing into the annals of history.

More: Unveiling the Nation's Report Card: Can American Students Write Well?

School districts in Hawaii, Indiana, and Florida have already said goodbye to cursive. Last week, a North Carolina school district did the same. Pitt County North Carolina schools will teach students how to print until the third grade, when typing will be taught instead of cursive.

The Common Core State Standards for English do not require cursive. Some schools are electing to find a place for cursive in the curriculum, but administrators in many districts say that teachers don’t have time to teach writing along with everything else that is required.

Although typing skills are a must in a technological future, a legible signature is also still needed for daily life, say experts. Others argue that if students don’t learn cursive, how will they read historical documents? And what about the sheer personalization of writing?

Anne Mangen at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre in Norway has extensively researched the importance of writing with a pen. According to Mangen, writing by hand gives the brain feedback for motor skills. The touching of a pencil and paper ignites the senses. Mangen, along with a neurologist in France, found that different parts of the brain are activated when children read letters learned by handwriting.

Numerous studies show that daily handwriting lessons in schools have decreased from an average of 30 minutes to 15. Now they are on the verge of disappearing completely.

A 2010 study by the Carnegie Corporation of New York reported that students’ reading skills can improve if they write what they are reading in addition to them learning writing skills and increasing how much they write.

Vanderbilt University education professor Steve Graham, a leading researcher in this area, said in an interview last year with NPR that the brain lights up less with typing, a simple motor skill, than writing, a more complex one. But it’s not cursive writing, Graham argues, but simply handwriting. He also notes that cursive script could be taught in kindergarten or first grade instead of third grade because it’s not as elaborate as it once was.

“I would make the case that we want kids to either be really fluent and legible in either manuscript and cursive or both, but also in keyboarding, and the issue is that’s three versus teaching two, you know, there’s a real push on time in schools,” he said.

The U.S. Department of Education recommends in its "Tips for Parents on National Writing Day" to teach children to print before attempting cursive.

But some school systems are bucking the trend of abandoning cursive. In Wisconsin’s Eau Claire School District, students are now learning cursive in second grade instead of third in order for them to perform better on standardized tests. Studies show that students who know cursive often excel on tests because they can write their thoughts down faster using cursive.

The debate on cursive is likely to continue as schools eliminate—and then reintroduce—penmanship to the curriculum.

Do you think children should still learn cursive writing in schools? Share your thoughts in comments.

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